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Posted on Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 6:03 a.m.

Ann Arbor lays off three planning unit employees, union files grievance

By Ryan J. Stanton

As the economy changes, Ann Arbor's Planning and Development Services Unit is scaling back to reflect a drop in building activity and revenues from permit fees.

Three city employees are losing their jobs in planning and development this holiday season but - through a union bumping process - are being reassigned to new duties in other areas of city government. Two administrative support specialists are starting new jobs at CTN television and in customer services, while a development services inspector is off to field operations.

Meanwhile, city officials have been interviewing candidates for the position of planning and development manager. The position was left vacant when Mark Lloyd resigned in June and has been filled on an interim basis by Wendy Rampson. The job will pay $72,469 to $119,573, according to the posting.

"It kind of makes me sick to my stomach that they're going to be laying off the rank-and-file employees while hiring new management," said Nicholas Nightwine, president of the city's AFSCME union. "Right now we are at minimum staffing. We've got people doing double the work they normally do to keep things up."

Nightwine said the union has a grievance pending against the city for the three layoffs - though it mostly stems from the union's belief that the city shouldn't be eliminating union jobs when there are temporary employees in city government doing AFSCME work that should be let go first.

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City Administrator Roger Fraser declined to comment on the grievance when contacted by phone on Tuesday. But he said the city's construction code fund has experienced a significant reduction in revenue over the past year due to the economy and the three jobs being eliminated are directly tied to that fund.

Two other construction inspectors - one building inspector and one plumbing inspector - also have been reassigned to rental housing inspection, so the city is down a total of three inspectors who were funded through the construction code fund. The 27-employee unit now has five construction inspectors, six housing inspectors and four clerical workers.

The Planning and Development Services Unit supports the Planning Commission and all appeals boards. It also handles the city’s master planning, site plan review, rental housing inspections, historic preservation, zoning coordination, construction inspections, permits, and building, housing and sign enforcement.

Rampson said funding for construction code activities is limited to the revenue generated by those activities, and so the unit must adjust expenses in the face of significant revenue reductions. In addition to staff cuts, new service changes went into effect recently. That includes new hours of operation and changes to inspections, which are outlined in a memo from Rampson on the city's Web site.

Rampson said her unit has been doing its best to get a handle on the changing landscape. She said one of the challenges has been that permit revenues the city collects come from fees based on the value of construction and a lot of the activity lately has been from smaller projects.

She said the unit has seen a noticeable drop in commercial projects and large multiple-family projects, but not so much in smaller home remodeling.

"Our service is hurting," she said. "We aim to have an inspection turnaround within two days of a request and in some cases in November it was almost two weeks."

Though the city is working to address a multimillion-dollar budget deficit and laying off people, Rampson said it's important to fill the planning manager position because of the complexity of the Planning and Development Services Unit. However, she said she and others will be taking a close look at the unit's management structure.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Wed, Feb 17, 2010 : 11:29 a.m.

Pragmatic...Have you not followed City government until just recently? Obviously not, or you would know that a major reorganization was accomplished affecting the largest union, AFSCME a few years ago. Most recently Police were reorganized and now they are looking at Fire to do the same. Where they haven't reorganized is management. There are way too many levels and it's the highest paid group. Please check before making unfounded comments like "scrutinized to see if they are overstaffed, which is very likely."


Sat, Jan 2, 2010 : 3:28 p.m.

Why stop at the Planning Department? Every city department should be carefully scrutinized to see if they are overstaffed, which is very likely. The taxpayers deserve greater efficiency from their government and these tough economic times are finally forcing the city to do something they should have all along. Be more accountable.


Fri, Jan 1, 2010 : 9:55 a.m.

Well what do you expect? This city government puts parks and golf courses above all other city services. Vote people. Let them know what you think at the next council meeting.


Thu, Dec 31, 2009 : 9:17 p.m.

The laid off employees have been transfered to other departments with major wage reductions; one of the workers is now making $10,000 less/yr. Their lives have been put in a turmoil because of irresponsible fiscal management; not because of a slow-down in the building industry. There is plenty of money to pay for multiple layers of management in the Planning and Development Services Unit; almost every park facility in the City has gained a second layer of management in the past yr. Priorities, responsibility and accountability is what we the taxpayer need to call for from our elected officials; when the going gets tough people have more time to scrutinize where their tax dollars are going and its high time that we demand transparency from our leaders. It all starts at the local level. If our leaders aren't listening to what we, the taxpayers, want and what we are paying for, they need to know that they can easily be replaced. Let the truth be told!

The Picker

Thu, Dec 31, 2009 : 5:07 p.m.

SB, Their pockets are deep with OUR money! I can see the bldg dept. but housing? The dept of redundancy dept. Its outlived its function, a hangover from an earlier time. I can see health or safety violations, but peeling paint, really! Landlords and tenants both distain the regular visits. Their paperwork is months behind and they never seem to wind things up. And tenants are starting to realize its part of the reason the rents are so high. Beware of growing govt. it expensive and it rarely goes away.


Thu, Dec 31, 2009 : 1:56 p.m.

At least in a short time the City should have the results of their "Urban Forest Survey." $250,000 to count and categorize the trees in the City. Money shuffled from the overfunded water/utilities dept to the forestry dept. Maybe the $250,000 could have paid the wages/benefits for a few employees/firefighters for a couple of years??


Thu, Dec 31, 2009 : 10:29 a.m.

Ann Arbor's Building Department has been treating builders and landlords like dung for as long as I can remember. At one point the Home Builder's Association was seriously thinking of bringing suit to the City for numerous inspector violatons, but decided in the end to forego because it became evident that the City had much deeper pockets with which to pay their attorneys. So the problems persist, to the point of becoming endemic. Going to the Building Department is akin to sticking your head in the lion's mouth. Enemy territory. Beware.. And Mick52's comments are completely germane. Where's the layoff? A transfer, instead? If this was a business with excess employes, I doubt they would be shuffeled around in this manner. The bottom line would stay the same. Grrrrr.

Brian Kuehn

Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 7:48 p.m.

BornNRaised - thanks for the link. Interesting perspective. Let's all agree to vote next election to assure our City representatives, be they incumbents or new members, properly reflect the will of the citizens of this City.

The Picker

Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 7:44 p.m.

Thanks for the link, Born n Raised! Very enlightening! It seems our elected officials are gaming us all. Very similar to the slight of hand process the health care debacle has taken. Transparency to them is making it so you can't see what they are doing with our money. Its time to throw them all overboard and get serious citizens in their positions. P.S. Whats with the crappy podiums at CTN? Does no one do maintenance on our equipment over there? Three dollars worth of Old English would go a long way to preserving our assets


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 7:07 p.m.

@Grumpy, and everyone else. Take 8 minutes to look at this.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 6:27 p.m.

These budget buckets are baloney. They are used to rationalize all manner of fiscal irresponsibility - most recently the " Percent for Art/Dreiseitlel Sculpture" rip-off. Apparently we need a more flexible process, so we can more effectively maintain our basic infrastructure and services while avoiding wasteful and unnecessary boondoggles like this. Remember this come election time!

The Picker

Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 5:54 p.m.

The housing dept should be eliminated Jan 1st. While it has cleaned up the rental stock in the past it has become another useless beauracracy, nit picking landlords and tenants and driving them crazy with never ending and disfunctional paperwork and inspections. This unending process has done nothing but drive the price of rent through the roof. As rental margins shrink the housing stock will really suffer and revenue that should have gone to upkeep will be lost to useless wheel spinning. The building dept should restructure housing inspections to a complaint driven process, and not rely on the subjective whims of city officials looking to perpetuate their dept.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 5:53 p.m.

Really? - I looked at the CTN website, but could not find the interview you referenced. Perhaps you could provide a link.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 5:17 p.m.

a lot of these jobs would be saved if the unions didnt have a stranglehold on public sector jobs. we could all benefit, taxpayers, employers, and employees.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 5:12 p.m.

Grumpy, funny you should ask. The City was supposed to provide their fund balance sheet to the unions at the end of October. While it's done, they are playing games not to release it. They're acting like little kids that want to hide their money. Problem is, it's not THEIR money, it's OUR money, but they refuse to tell where it's all stashed. I'm sorry, I belive the proper city term is what "buckets" it's in. This city government is all about smoke and mirrors. Don't believe it? Look at the CTN site with the interview of the two educated residents talking about the budget process in this city.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 4:46 p.m.

"is a leader along with SF & NYC rather than a follower" Sure...New York, San Fransico....Ann Arbor. That's a logical progression.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 4:36 p.m.

I recently learned about Gov 2.0 from the story linked below. Given Ann Arbor's claim to being a tech savvy town, I hope the local government is a leader along with SF & NYC rather than a follower when it comes to putting public information, which otherwise may be buried in file cabinets and Excel files, at the fingertips of taxpayers. Perhaps there will be a day when readers or a company like Menlo mentioned in another article posted today could give citizens more of a say in how their local tax money is spent. Other notable quotes from the article include: By some accounts, the trend is turning the government-voter relationship on its head and could usher in a new era of grassroots democracy. "I see [Gov 2.0 apps] as the death of a passive relationship with government. "We feel like it makes governments more accountable, and it makes them function better."


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 2:49 p.m.

So who is getting laid off. Three Planning Dept employees are being transferred to other jobs. That is not a layoff. And how much is this transfer saving in terms of $? Are these 3 being paid less in their new jobs? Or are other employees being laid off? Note to If your headline says lay offs, write the article about layoffs. It the story is about job transfers, compose the headline to reflect job transfers. If the issue is budget problems, please include how much is being saved and how. I see nothing in this article telling us how much these transfers are saving or how. If people are being laid off due to these transfers, perhaps that may be newsworthy. Another angle here, something I am wondering about, is if the transfers from the Development department are placing people in positions they are not qualified to fill and if the transfers are causing layoffs of employees who have been performing those tasks and thus are more experienced and qualified than the transferred employees. It would be nice to know, under this headline, who is being laid off and what the savings are in terms of tax $$. Too bad the million dollar city hall fountain fund can't be transferred to cover necessities.

David Cahill

Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 12:53 p.m.

Sorry, the AADL (Ann Arbor District Library) is a separate governmental unit with its own elected Board of Trustees, and separate millage. It's separate from Ann Arbor's city government.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 12:46 p.m.

"Who needs planning staff when their recommendations are regularly dismissed and turned down by planning commission and council? The hostile development environment lives strong here," Ain't that the truth. nobody wants to deal with the planning dept. here. Well the department is better than the commission that's for sure


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 11:52 a.m.

While I sympathize with the workers, a few layoffs or job reassignments here and there are not going to solve the much bigger revenue problem that Council still needs to address. The administration keeps trying to deal with this crisis in piecemeal fashion, as though things will get better (denial) or the pain will be lessened that way. The reality is that the money is not there. Out of respect for the workers who live in fear of losing their jobs and the community whose services will get cut, I would like to see Council take some decisive action on the budget soon.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 11:50 a.m.

All city millages in one "bucket." Hmmm...there are two very high millage "buckets" that I know of that are running over (AATA and AADL) while other "buckets" are not quite so full.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 11:37 a.m.

TWO weeks for an inspection!??? What a joke! Way to hold up those people that are trying to work in construction and make a living! Typical Ann Arbor, everyone has to succumb to their power trip.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 11:04 a.m.

Perhaps we need to re-think these "buckets." If all City millage revenue were put into the general fund then the politicians and administrators would be responsible (and held responsible) for how the money was spent. Of course the avoidence of that responsibility is one of the reasons for creating the "buckets" in the first place. The voters could choose if it were put on the ballot in November. Anyone want to give me odds?


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 9:59 a.m.

Has anyone looked in the CTN "bucket" lately? How much money goes in and how much is compelled by law (if any) to be spent on CTN studios, staff, etc., for public access? Mandate or sacred cow?


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 9:31 a.m.

My guess is that planning departments everywhere are not very busy these days. Not for the past couple years, not for the next couple.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 9:07 a.m.

Sounds to me like we need some large scale projects to keep these people working. Maybe the city and its residents should embrace builders and not fight them.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 8:53 a.m.

Did I hear that correctly? There is more than enough work to create the inspections needed for full staffing levels, but not enough money to pay the staff. Maybe that is why we wait for a week or two in order to get an inspection, this is unacceptable. The work has shifted from large commercial jobs, to smaller commercial and residential remodels. If the workload is such that that a full inspection staff is warranted, then why is the construction code fund not sufficient to pay the inspectors? Basic business forecasting...someone dropped the ball on forecasting the length of this recession. Ann Arbor has very low trade permit fees and this is where the majority of the work has been generated since the larger projects have slowed.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 8:04 a.m.

I bet the public schools wish they had a teacher to student ratio equivalent to the manager to worker ratio the City has.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 7:33 a.m.

Condolences to those staffers. Planning staff has been service oriented and professional, following the written law of City code. Therein lies a problem.. The layoffs are not a surprise. Who needs planning staff when their recommendations are regularly dismissed and turned down by planning commission and council? The hostile development environment lives strong here, as it has since the 1980s. It's a nasty political quagmire that has, and will continue, to hurt Ann Arbor.. Maybe the $1mil statue will help turn things around!


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 7:18 a.m.

Typical City gov. Layoff the workers and hire top dollar mangement...What a joke!